The Lagos State Government on Tuesday issued a seven-day ultimatum to boat operators, dredgers and stakeholders in the inland waterways sector to comply with laws, rules and guidelines concerning their operations or face stiff sanctions.
Addressing a press conference in Lagos, the state government said it was ready to enforce regulation of waterfront infrastructure development and all connected purposes, and urged boat and dredging operators to cooperate with it to sanitise the sector.
The government had stated last week that a Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal had handed over to it power to control the inland waterways within the state. But the National Inland Waterways Authority, NIWA, described the claim as untrue.
According to the NIWA, the appellate court only gave the government power to legislate on intra-state waterways, which are waterways that originate and end within the state.
But on Tuesday, the state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Adeniji Kazeem, said the state government was pleased with the “clear” judgment which he described as unambiguous and a victory for resource control and fiscal federalism in Nigeria.
The press conference was jointly addressed by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Steve Ayorinde; Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development, Ade Akinsanya; Managing Director of Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), Abisola Kamson; and the Chief Executive Officer of Lagos State Ferry Services, Paul Kalejaye.
Mr. Kazeem said there had been varied attempts by those who lost out, especially the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), to whittle down the effect of the appellate court judgment.
He said in as much as the state government was not out to antagonise or fight anybody, it would however be “uncowed, unbowed and fiercely protect the God-given resources within the state and never relent in championing the cause of true federalism in the country.”
Reacting to claims by NIWA that the judgment did not favour the state government, Mr. Kazeem said the quest by the federal agency to keep on controlling the resources of the state from Abuja despite the judgment was totally absurd and cannot stand when viewed from moral, legal and economic grounds.
He said the same NIWA that claimed on the one hand that the judgment did not favour the state government, had also indicated interest to appeal, and queried the intention of the agency in seeking to take the resources of the state.
“Looking at the import of these laws which you can find in the constitution is that the Federal Government controls maritime and international navigation which is to clear the high seas for international carriers to be able to move freely,” Mr. Kazeem said.
“In so far as bodies of water within a state do not obstruct those international routes, those bodies of water within the exclusive preserve of the state are left to their control and that is what that Appeal Court judgment affirmed. It said clearly that the Lagos State House of Assembly has powers to legislate on its intra-inland waterways and the LASWA Law is very clear about its powers and authority to control boat operation.
“You can imagine that a federal government agency in Abuja intend to control how boat operators operate here. This is just the same thing as saying that the federal government agency should control the buses that ply your road. If you say you have a right to control land transportation, should you not have right to control water transportation?
“Secondly, if you have a coastline that is very important to you and then some people are eroding that coastline by unregulated dredging cutting into the coastline, causing flooding, causing environmental nuisance and then you say that an agency that is situated in Abuja should control that, that is absurd. So, on a moral, on a legal, on an economic standpoint, it is not right,” Mr. Kazeem said.
He added that in this age of very lean resources, the judgment was a breath of fresh air for internally generated revenue, and it would also help the state government to restore the environment and control the menace of flooding, while also falling in line with the promise of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode to make Lagos work for all by recovering and harnessing the resources of the State for benefit of all.
“If it is the wish of NIWA to challenge the right of LASG to control its resources at the Supreme Court, we say we are ready. However, until this judgment is set aside, it remains good law and will be fully enforced by the LASG and my office and the relevant government agencies,” Mr. Kazeem said.
Also speaking, Mr. Akinsanya said with the judgment, the government would now enforce relevant laws to ensure balance between economic development and preservation that would permit the beneficial use of waterfronts while preserving the diminution of open space areas or public access to the waterfront, shoreline erosion, impairment of scenic beauty or permanent adverse changes to ecological system, as well as the guidelines for sand dredging and auxiliary operations, including evidence of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Bathymetric/sand search reports before any project is allowed on the waterways.
On her part, Ms. Kamson urged all stakeholders to take full advantage of the seven-day ultimatum to regularise their operations and activities, revealing that the reforms aimed at achieving integrated, intermodal water transportation system would now be vigorously pursued in the state.